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Environmentalist art before there was an “environment”

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TWO centuries ago Thomas Cole arrived on American shores, bringing with him from England a new landscape painting tradition perfect for the wild expanses of the new world. Cole also brought a zeal for warning about the perils that unchecked industry posed to the natural world, establishing one of painting’s first environmental critiques. “Atlantic Crossings”, an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that will travel to the National Gallery in London in June, celebrates the bicentennial of Cole’s American arrival and newly explores his transatlantic career—how both old world and new influenced his visual and intellectual rendering of the natural environment. 

Born in Bolton in 1801 at the height of the industrial revolution, Cole entered a polluted and overcrowded world of factories belching smoke into sooty skies. Most artists at the time continued to paint bucolic country scenes, with just a few finding inspiration in this new infernal backdrop to modern life, including J.M.W. Turner and Philippe Jacques de…Continue reading

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